President Barack Obama will not use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in his annual statement commemorating the historic atrocity later this month.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama issued a statement promising to describe the plight of the Armenians as a genocide, but in his previous five statements he has not done so — mainly to avoid a rupture in diplomatic relations with Turkey, a NATO ally and key partner in addressing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Armenian-American leaders, hopeful that the 100th anniversary and recent support for their view from Pope Francis, were dejected on Tuesday.
“This is a betrayal of the truth, a betrayal of trust, a disgraceful national surrender to a foreign gag order being imposed by the government of Turkey,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who attended the White House meeting.
A US delegation led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will travel to Armenia this week to mark the genocide’s centenary on April 24.
Sources familiar with the issue say the White House also considered sending U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who has written in detail about the Armenian genocide, but that she is not expected to join the trip.
How interesting. Now would be a good time to revisit Ms. Power’s statement to the American Armenian Community, recorded and released in early 2008 as Obama was seeking election. The full video (4m 33s) is posted below.
I’m Samantha Power, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government, and one of Barack Obama’s senior foreign policy advisors, and I just wanted to speak with you, the Armenian community, about the reasons I’m supporting Barack Obama. I got a call from him in early 2005 when he’d taken over his seat in the US Senate, as Junior Senator from Illinois, and he had just read the book I had written, ‘A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”. He was the only member of Congress and the US Senate to reach out to me, having read that book, in which I documented what had been done to the Armenians in 1915. We met in Washington. We were supposed to meet for an hour. We met for four hours, and by the end of that period, I heard myself saying “Why don’t I leave my job at Harvard and come and work as an intern in your office – I’ll do anything!” And what I’ve seen in Obama over the years – over the last few years – is his unshakeable conscientiousness about human rights [and] on the issue of genocide prevention. Whether with regard to understand the costs of denial – and the degree to which that fuels further cycles of violence – or, a real life genocide that’s going on as we speak, which is that in Darfur, and the leadership he’s taken on that issue.
Moreover, though, what is amazing about Barack, and what I, as a non-Washington person so gravitate toward, is his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and conventional Washington. As your community knows better than anybody, business as usual in Washington leads to certain bad habits that are destructive for human rights and for human dignity. And Obama, whether it’s on standing up to the war in Iraq in October 2002, the only mainstream candidate who did that; or who has been willing to challenge Pervez Musharraf, and ask him where US military assistance is going; being willing to meet with our so-called enemies or rogue nations and not put conditions on those meetings, because he believes we look tougher when we’re actually in the room with people, and agrees with John Kennedy that we should never negotiate in fear, but never fear to negotiate; or his very forthright statement on the Armenian genocide, his support for the Senate resolution acknowledging the genocide all these years later, his willingness as President to commemorate it, and certainly to call a spade a spade, and to speak the truth about it.
I know him very well and he is a person of incredible integrity, and he is not going to focus-group his way to making very important policy decisions. He’s a true friend of the Armenian people, and a acknowledger of the history, and somebody who can respond to “the fierce urgency of now”, which is Martin Luther King’s way of describing this moment in history and just how desperate we all are to restore American leadership in the world, which he can do uniquely as one who opposed the war in Iraq and as someone who is the product of the world, as someone who is half-Kenyan, half Kansan. Restore our leadership in the world, but also understand that that leadership is rooted in truth-telling, in sometimes hard truth-telling, and in ensuring that American power is used to enhance dignity around the world.
So I hope you, in the Armenian community, will take my word for it, but if not, I hope you’ll pay attention in these coming days to everything that comes out of Barack Obama’s mouth, because he’s a person who can actually be trusted, which distinguishes him from some in the Washington culture. So I hope you’ll take him seriously, as you have always taken me seriously. And I’m very grateful for your support for my writings, and for the ideas within them. And I know Senator Obama would be hugely grateful for your support on February 5, and in the primary states beyond. Thank you so much.